Book reaction: World War Z

Arresting. Emotionally wrenching. Gripping. Brilliant. Book reaction: World War Z

As promised, I have stepped outside of my book bubble, and have just finished Max Brooks' World War ZWhen I say just finished, I mean that I read the last lines of the Good-Byes only minutes ago: I am still reeling. That is why this is entitled a reaction rather than a review.

I approached this book with very little knowledge of its style, plot or context. I knew it was a collection of oral histories (it's right there in the subtitle An Oral History of the Zombie War) and I saw the trailer for the upcoming film adaption (which it turns out told me nothing).

The zombies are there: the flesh, the fear, the bones crunching and the stink rising. But that is not what this book is about. It's about us. It is at once both a far-fetched fantasy and terrifying reflection of reality. At times it caused me to come close to welling up: not through a sentimentalised weeping for humanity, but a shocking and brutal assault of rational conclusions that I could not counter. The review from Empire on the back cover says it all: "As a horror story, it's exciting. As a parable, it's terrifying."

Trying to look at it objectively, I can say that it is wonderfully written. There are countless oral histories, and each one builds the picture of a person, place, culture and nationality as well as building and rolling the story forward. Brooks is effective but efficient with words, complex but never superfluous.

The picture he creates is psychologically realistic. What I mean by that is, whilst there are visceral, descriptive passages it is never gritty or exposed. You are always experiencing an event through someone's experience and memory of it. This is not an objective historical account: it is a social and cultural fallout.

There are some parts of the story left untold, but it is better that way. The very gaps are indicative of the terrors, inhumanity, bravery and destruction that would remain forever in the dark. To be clear, the story is never fantastical, and that is why it works so well - it requires no stretch of the imagination to believe what you are reading.

World War Z was simultaneously harrowing and incredibly enjoyable. I was utterly immersed, and whilst Brooks' predictions are unnerving, they are hard to argue with. No matter where this book falls in your comfort zone you should read it: it has guts that you might not like, but which I guarantee you will feel.